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Viewpoint: Tackling the mental health crisis needs money

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Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in Northern Ireland

Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in Northern Ireland

Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in Northern Ireland

There are thousands of families in Northern Ireland who can relate to the comments of Heather Stafford, whose son Jack took his own life three years ago at the tender age of 14. Her whole family is still at a loss as to why Jack ended his life and as she says the only person who can give her the answer is no longer with them.

That is a common consequence of suicide. Frequently the bereaved don’t know what prompted the action taken by their loved one. Was it something they did, or something they didn’t do? Did they miss warning signs? Why did they not talk more, ask more questions, seek more help?

The death of a young person in any circumstances is cruel and heart-wrenching. It flies in the face of the natural order where parents should predecease their children. But suicide is particularly difficult to deal with because of the unanswered questions and the gnawing feeling that perhaps something could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

Those are natural reactions and Mrs Stafford articulates them movingly. But what more could she, her husband. or Jack’s siblings have done? They noticed changes in his behaviour, talked to him, inquired if he needed help, got him counselling, and yet a short time after he headed up the stairs of the family home one evening he was found dead.

It has repeatedly been said that Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, particularly among young men, but recent research suggests the figures may have been inflated by including accidental drug overdoses. However, that does not diminish the waste of life contained within the statistics. Mental health has long been one of the most underfunded specialties in a health service which is itself underfunded — a fact the pandemic has starkly laid bare.

So it is encouraging that Health Minister Robin Swann recently launched a new mental health strategy for the province, setting out 35 actions under three themes.

Earlier intervention and prevention and greater support for those caring for people with mental health problems is one theme. Another is ensuring support is given at the right time, and greater emphasis in work in the community is also proposed. There will also be additional money for child and adolescent mental health services.

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There is no doubting the minister’s sincerity but it still reads like a wish list unless there is a large injection of new funding.

Perhaps it is time to see if there is a public appetite to pay a little more to get the health service back on its feet.


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